Your Beehive Has No Queen

Connecting War and Peace with Today’s Organizations

Leo Tolstoy was an avid beekeeper who carefully observed the dying beehive and used it as a metaphor in War and Peace  (Vol. III, Part Three, Chap. XX) for the condition of Moscow when Napoleon entered the city in his campaign against Russia in 1812.  In my post earlier this month I shared his metaphor of a clock with no mechanism illustrating Napoleon’s actions upon finding the city nearly deserted.  As I share these further observations I invite you to apply the dying beehive metaphor anywhere it may fit.

From afar or at a superficial glance a dying beehive seems to be like all the other hives.  But if the beekeeper looks more closely his senses tell him otherwise.  The queen is dead.  The life-giving, regenerative force is gone.

bottom-board-starvation2dying hive

The smell is “not of spirituous fragrant smell of honey, but the smell of honey is mingled with a smell of emptiness and rot”.

To the ear it is “no longer that measured and quiet sound, the throb of work, like the sound of seething water, but one hears the discordant, scattered noise of disorder”.

Upon opening the hive and looking inside he sees “instead of the black strands of juicy bees…drawing out the wax with an incessant whisper of labor – sleepy, dried up bees wander absentmindedly in various directions over the bottom and sides of the hive”.

He watches the bees that remain.  “Bees, dried-up, shrunken, sluggish, as if old, wander about slowly, hindering nothing, desiring nothing, having lost the awareness of life.”

“Where formerly the entire space was covered by the black circle of thousands of bees sitting tightly back to back, guarding the lofty mysteries of generation, he now sees hundreds of dejected, half-alive and somnolent husks of bees. They are almost all dead, not knowing themselves, sitting over the sacred thing they were guarding, which is no longer there.”

Tolstoy returns his thoughts to Moscow.  “In various corners of Moscow only a few people stirred meaninglessly, keeping to old habits and not understanding what they were doing.”

There are two remedies for a dying beehive.  If discovered early enough, a new queen can be put in place.  The life-giving, regenerative force of the beehive is renewed.  But if is too late, the beekeeper will break open the hive and burn it.

Moscow needed to burn.  And when Napoleon was gone and the citizens came back to rebuild, the regenerative force was renewed.  The city became alive and productive once again.

Our inner life and the life of the various groups we belong to – family, volunteer organizations, church, recreational groups, cities, nations, work organizations – can be alive, vibrant, productive, and sweet or they can be dying, dried up, unproductive, and empty.  Like a beehive.  What is the life-giving, regenerative force that keeps each of these entities alive?  What happens when that is gone, when the queen bee is dead?

How can each be renewed so that honey flows again?


War and Peace was published in 1869, but it rewards the reader in 2014 by continuing to be relevant.  I have one more post to write connecting this novel to our modern life.  The first two have addressed leadership and organizations.  The next one will be about the individual human being.


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3 Responses to Your Beehive Has No Queen

  1. Amy says:

    I really like this one. Thank you

  2. Lyssa says:

    Wow, wow! Loving this series of connecting what you are reading to our modern world. I am learning so much!

  3. Meg Lyons says:

    Very nice, Peggy! I agree, I am learning a lot with these…

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